Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Washington Park Branch Library: "Guarded Good News"

Washington Park library branch, shuttered 2 years, to reopen

01:00 AM EST on Tuesday, December 9, 2008

By Philip Marcelo

Journal Staff Writer

A new lease will pave the way for reopening the refurbished Washington Park library branch, which was closed in 2006.

The Providence Journal / Mary Murphy

PROVIDENCE -- A lease between the city and the nonprofit Providence Public Library Foundation, which runs the public library system, will be in place this week, paving the way for the reopening of the Washington Park branch, according to Mayor David N. Cicilline.

But community groups, who have been vocal in the two years since the building, owned by the city, was closed due to structural deficiencies, say they are holding off on celebrating just yet.

"It remains to be seen," said Duane Clinker, pastor of Open Table of Christ Church. "It has been a very long time and we have not had the courtesy of a reply from either the mayor or the library. … We hope that the doors do open."

Clinker and church members protested in front of the Central Library, on Empire Street, and staged a "read-in" in front of the Washington Park branch, on Broad Street, on Saturday.

About 30 people holding banners or drumming red plastic pails stood outside the Central Library, before entering the library and checking out dozens of books to bring back to Washington Park. Outside the library branch, about 80 people gathered, some reading to children from books that were checked out earlier.

Clinker said that the actions were meant to draw attention to the apparent inaction from the city and library since renovation work was completed at the end of the summer.

Cicilline says that the city spent $225,000 renovating the branch building, which is in a former firehouse.

Work included a new roof, repointing of exterior brickwork, a new entrance, upgraded electrical systems, a new fire alarm system, new carpeting and a fresh coat of paint for interior walls and a renovated bathroom.

The city has identified needed improvements for the second floor and allocated an additional $175,000 for the work, but the building is ready for use, according to Cicilline.

A proposed lease for the city-owned space is currently under review by the city law department. Cicilline says that the two sides are still negotiating min! or detai ls of the contract language.

Tania Mason, a spokeswoman for the library foundation, said it anticipates moving back into the building once the city signs off on the lease. Mason says that once open, the branch library would have the same three- to four-member staff as before and will operate Monday to Friday for a total of 31 hours a week, like other branches.

The building has been maintained by the city since the foundation was forced to close the branch in 2006.

At the time, it was reported that building contractors found serious structural problems and considerable water damage from a leaking roof.

After the closing, the foundation relocated its after-school program to the home of the Washington Park Foundation, a local nonprofit organization housed in a former Benny's auto parts store at 1380 Broad St. That temporary library site closed earlier this year.

The news of the branch library's likely reopening comes about a month after the city and the library foundation reached an agreement to have the foundation operate the library system as is -- with the Central Library downtown and nine neighborhood branches -- until July 1, 2009 -- even if it means running an operating deficit.

The city, under the agreement, will contribute $3.4 million to the library system this fiscal year, about the same as in previous years.


Below is the foreword from Patricia Raub:

Dear library supporters,
It's too soon to celebrate, but there's guarded good news about the Washington Park Branch Library! Thanks to the hard work of the Open Table of Christ youth group, the City Councilors, and everyone else who exerted pressure to get things moving.
(See photos of Dec. 6 branch library events, including Washington Park Read-In here:



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